Cracking the ‘Halloween Nut’ in North Carolina: A Free Public Event

Samhain

You may be aware that Halloween is derived from the Gaelic (and more broadly, Celtic) festival of Oidhche Shamhna and Samhain. The festival, with its pre-Christian roots, commemorated the last phase of the harvest season, ancestors, and the end of the old (agricultural) year. But how much do you really know about the Samhain customs and beliefs of the Scottish Highlanders?

To dig past the commercial trappings of the modern holiday (and modern misconceptions) and get at its roots, plan to attend a free public lecture at the University of North Carolina Oct. 26 called “A’ Cnagadh Cnù na Samha: Cracking the Halloween Nut: Sensing and Making Sense of a Scottish Highland Calendar Custom.” The lecture will be delivered by Dr. Tiber Falzett, the inaugural visiting lecturer in Scottish Gaelic Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Dr. Falzett will explore the unique and universal aspects of Halloween folkways among Scottish Highlanders in North America and in Scotland, using field recordings of custom and belief within Gaelic-speaking communities, newspaper editorials, and song compositions. Together, these Gaelic voices will bring to life the cultural significance of Halloween for Highland immigrant communities, providing valuable insights into the reasons for Halloween’s near-universal appeal.

Learning more about the Gaelic customs of Oidhche Shamhna will help attendees compare Halloween’s many divergent re-interpretations as it has become popularized around the world. It will also help Gaelic learners and speakers reconnect with the holiday as Scottish Highlanders and their descendants in North America celebrated it yesterday and today.

The lecture is scheduled for 6:30 pm to 8 pm in UNC’s Kenan Music Building, room 1201, at 125 S. Columbia Street in Chapel Hill. There will be a celebratory reception afterward.

The lecture also celebrates the the first Scottish Heritage USA Scottish Gaelic Visiting Lectureship at UNC, a major step in advancing Scottish Gaelic Studies in the United States. The lectureship is funded by Scottish Heritage USA and is the result of a two-year campaign by the Scottish Gaelic Foundation of the USA or Gaelic USA.

Before coming to UNC this fall, Falzett, a fluent Scottish Gaelic speaker, lectured in the Department of History at the University of Prince Edward Island. He previously lectured at St. Francis Xavier University, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where he taught courses on the folklore and ethnology of the Gaelic communities of Scotland, Ireland and Canada.

For more information, visit the lecture’s event page on Facebook.

“Criomagan” from “Fear na Céilidh,” 1928

“‘S i an droch-sgeul a’s luaithe ruigeas sinn.”

The Scottish Gaelic periodicals published in Nova Scotia in the early 20th Century contained many short stories and news bulletins that are interesting, information and often amusing, opening a window into the world of the Gaelic reader in times past.

We’ll be publishing occasional selections of these bits or “criomagan” of news for visitors to our website both as a learning exercise and for fun. Try your hand at translating them!

This first criomag is from the first issue of Fear na Céilidh, March 1928, Vol, 1, No. 1. The sentiment rings true today:

“Leis gach gnìomh oillteil air am faighear fios anns na pàipeirean, tha daoine buailteach air bhi smaoineachadh gu’m bheil an saoghal a’ sìor dhol dh’ionnsaidh an uilc.  Ach feumar a chuimhneachadh gu’m bheil cùisean air atharrachadh gu mòr o chionn dà fhichead no leth-cheud bliadhna. Aig an am sin cha bhiodh de naidheachdan aig an t-sluagh ach na thigeadh à earainn bhig de’n dùthaich fhèin: bhiodh mort (ag)us reubainn a’ dol air adhart an dùthchannan eile air nach faigheadh iad forfhais ri’m beò. An-diugh, bithear a’ faighinn brath a h-uile latha as gach cearna de’n t-saoghal, agus ‘s i an droch-sgeul a’s luaithe ruigeas sinn.”

We’ll post a translation with our next criomag.

If you want to send us your translation, or want translation help, e-mail Liam at willbcassidy@gmail.com.